Knitting for Dummies, by Pam Allen, Tracy Barr, and Shannon Okey, is my lifeline! It breaks down knitting to its simplest - keeping me out of trouble when that project has presented a new challenge. It is also the perfect accompaniment and teacher in learning new skills and tricks of the trade. What would I do without it? While not every problem in life or in parenting is as easily solved as the challenges we face in knitting, through this craft, I have managed to learn a lot about myself as a human being and as a parent. I hope I can share these experiences with you, and in turn, we can spend some time together learning from each other...

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Black & White

 Nothing is ever black or white.

At the beginning of my career, I learned about a customer service model which presented three points of view in any conversation:  (1) the way the customer sees the situation, (2) the way you see the same situation, and (3) the way it really is.  Understanding this model is important as it allows us to exercise its point:  bring one and two closer together to arrive at three... the way it is. 

Later on and after teaching this principle for years, I began to manage, and I learned that in managing people, the model still applied.  This time, it was about how a manager's direct reports sees a situation (1), how the manager sees it (2), and the way it really is.  Unlike the customer service scenario, however, I also learned that a manager has more data which oftentimes helps to determine whether or not an employee is meeting expectation, sure.  Nonetheless, the point remains the same:  bring the manager and the employee's points of view closer together to clearly outline the way it really is.  And we do that by ensuring that our employees are clear on expectations and continuously receive feedback to aide their growth.  (Sounds like parenting, eh?)  Bringing one and two closer together gets us to execution.  (And how "managerial" is that?!) 

To date as a manager, I have faced a lot of... interesting... situations with my direct reports, and I have learned a lot from each of them.  As I matured in my career, I started working with a manager who reminded me over and over that nothing was ever black or white, but that the answer always lied somewhere in the gray.  This was not very different than the aforementioned model. But...  it did bring up an interesting paradigm that needs pondering...

Is there anything that is truly black or white?  Is there?  Or are we to always seek all pertinent facts before rendering a decision?  Isn't that what our legal system does/is supposed to do?

As I have shared, I was raised with the values of the Catholic church.  At the core, one can find the ten commandments.  Let's start with one:  Thou shall not kill.  But what if one kills another in self-defense?  Is the issue still black and white or do we understand it and excuse it?  All of a sudden, we have gone from black to... gray? 

Thou shall not steal.  I have yet to hear anyone put Robin Hood down.  (n.b., I am not an advocate for stealing from the rich to give to the poor.  I am just wondering why we hold a different lens to this...) 

And then, there are the Church's "rules" on my sexual orientation.  Does God (the One with whom I grew up and follow today) love me less for living honestly and integrally?  Is my sexual orientation a black and white issue?

On parenting...

Needless to say, the concept of living in the gray is paramount to parenting - especially as these babies of ours get older and older...  P is in the last six months of his 11th year.  This is an important point to make in development as I learned from a teacher of his a while back.  He is already a tween and I am beginning to see signs (both beautiful and tough ones) of what the teenage years will bring.

Earlier this month, we had "issues" with losing something important for school.  P chose to react very "victim-like", and it probably did not help that I was not very sympathetic about it.  Part of me just wanted him to look at the situation logically and make plans for what would happen if we could not find the missing piece:  a memory stick with his work in it.  Unlike other times when he would get stuck on his first reaction, he re-responded quickly to re-do his work.  I was amazed that he could come up with this work so very quickly - for anyone who knows him, this has been uncharacteristic of most of his academic life: working fast and precisely. 

Hmmm... what was going on with him?  P is a kid of extremes.  Most kids are, I have noticed.  Could he have gone from "white" to "black" overnight?  Had some switch flipped?  Was it the "last six months" of his 11th year?

After both of us got some rest, the next morning, I sat with him right before breakfast and told him I wanted to talk about what had happened the day before.  But before I could say anything else, P exclaimed, "I know what I'm going to do about my work."  And he proceeded to explain his entire plan.  Few-to-no clarifying questions remained.  He even explained his reactions.  So, I had to pause to celebrate his thinking.  At the same time, however, I wondered... what had happened to my child?  I like it, but what happened?

I thought about it throughout the entire day reflecting on the idea that nothing is either black or white but most often (maybe always?) gray, somewhere in the middle where my son and I had met.  Could I have encouraged him to be more forthcoming during the work he was doing the night before instead of being so "black" to his "white"?  Every day, there is a lesson in parenting.  And every day, I'm reminded that gray is the color of the way.

On paradise...

Most recently, I have been bombarded with conversations and images on things that appear to deviate from the "normal".  (What is "normal" anyway?)  Rapidly, I have had to do checks to ensure that I am not passing judgment.  Remaining unjudgemental is important to me.  In these images (like the ones I present to you today), I wonder if I know the entire story.  I wonder if I am putting too much of who I am and not enough of what the other point of view is saying.  How can I remain un-judgemental in the process of seeing something?  It is not that I was raised in that accepting of an environment; it is that as someone who has often been judged, I do not ever want to go there for others.  And I have always known that as I parent, I want to raise a child who is tolerant, less judgemental than most of us, and accepting.  In there, I hope he finds his paradise, and in there, I hope he finds love.

In the beginning...

As we start turning the corner toward the conclusion of Adam and Eve in knitwear, this arc we started exploring a year ago, I knew that I wanted to make a piece of knitwear inspired by something less traditional. It was my friend, Todd B., who introduced me to the pondering of black v. white.  And so, I wanted to push myself to see if I could see things in a different manner.

This neck cuff is inspired by the boot covers I made earlier, mixed in with the tradition of cables and the warmth of beautiful yarn, and a little S&M for seasoning.  Believe it or not, the seasoning came from my last trip to a Burberry (sigh!) store in Chicago...

It is a simple rectangle.  It starts with a 2x1 ribbing which helped secure the fasteners.  From there, the neck warmer is made up of five rows of cable alternating the rows where the cable twists.  At first, the twists felt somewhat weird just like the ENTIRE idea behind it.  However, as the knitting continued, the soft waves reveiled themselves.  Again, this is true of thoughts and of my knitting this month.

I love the end look of this piece.  Hopefully, in it, you see the soft, the hard, the edgy and the hmmm, what is that?

PS  This month, P ended up getting braces.  When he was asked what color he wanted his rubber bands to be, he chose... black!  Funny, isn't it?  :)e-

A special thanks to my dear friend, Todd B., who has been watching and reading for this entire year.  Todd is supportive and encouraging, and in all of that, my family and I feel his love.  Thank you, Todd!  ;)e-

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Good luck to you!

Luck is a funny thing.  Dictionary.com defines "luck" as the force that seems to operate for good or ill in a person's life, as in shaping circumstances, events, or opportunities.  We often wish "good luck" to people in many of their endeavors - unless you are in the theatre where wishing someone "good luck" is actually "bad luck".

Some months ago, I was engaged in a conversation with P's violin teacher, Miss Marion (¡hola!) when she shared her views about "talent" and whether a child has talent or not.  As a teacher - and this is one of the many reasons I love her to death, she believes that with hard work everyone has talent.  In other words, it is not really about having something magical, but really about how hard you work to get something done.  Since then, I have thought a lot about that paradigm quite a bit, and this month, as the "luck of the Irish" came around, I pondered on whether the same is true for "luck".

Coming from my Hispanic, Catholic background, I heard a lot of "that was God" whenever something good or bad happened.  Was that mami's view and expression on "luck"?  Early in my relationship with my first partner and P's daddy, I must have channeled my mami as I said in an auto-pilot moment, "that was God" to something "bad but funny" that had just happened to him.  His response which to this day I still think of as priceless was, "My God is not a punishing God.  My God is a loving God."  Hmmmm, good point, mine is too.  From then on, the phrase changed a little: "it's karma". 

Can we really account for all the good and bad things that happen in our lives to pure luck?  I do feel lucky that I have a support system in family and friends that nurture me, make me feel loved, and have my back daily.  Is it because of luck?  I suppose that I didn't choose my family, so one could consider this to be luck.  But as I look at my relationships with my siblings, my mom, cousins, aunts, and uncles, we have all had our ups and downs.  (In some cases, we still have some downs.)  And still, I treasure all of them.  In every case, there is an enormous amount of work that has been put forth (or perhaps that will be needed in the future) to keep those relationships alive and well.  And as I look at my "chosen" family, my friends, I also look at a lot of work in nurturing and keeping those relationships healthy.  I could think of it as luck... but to me, it's  daily work.

On parenting...

My son works so hard at so many things.  Yes, he is still a kid and from time to time, he wanders, or slacks a tad.  Without guidance, his bed would probably go unmade and his room undone for his entire life.  Nonetheless, it is fun and very interesting as his papa to see him "at work" whether it be homework, violin, a sport, or simply at the dinner table as his wheels turn right before a question or right before the answer to an interesting question.  It is even more fulfilling to see him reap the fruits of his hard work after a recital or when he gets a paper back.  It is also as rewarding to discuss the lessons learned from mishaps or failures and ponder how to change the work around that to change the outcome.

I share this because I am not sure how I feel about teaching him the lesson on "luck".  Will his hard work be for nothing if he doesn't have luck on his side?  Should he slack in the hopes of having luck be kind to him?

Funnily, he uses the phrase "you are so lucky" often, and more and more I have noticed myself explaining the rationale behind what happened as hard work.

Am I killing the magic of luck?  What am I missing?

I wonder...

On Adam...

For the longest time, my son has been asking for a pair of fingerless gloves.  After my recent bout of singleitis - resolved by my (now Don D's) Pinky Swear mittens, I have attempted to find a good pattern for these.  For those knitters out there reading, I attemped the Knucks a couple of times, and somehow, I was a bit unhappy about how they kept turning out.  So, I kept researching.

After some time, I sillily realized that I had all the skills to do my own pattern.  What luck!  Not really... I had just researched enough to land back in Pinky Swear land...

These gloves start at the cuff, and I like a long cuff to bridge the gap between my shirt/jacket cuffs and my hands.  These are 2.5" long in a 2X2 rib.  Like with Pinky Swear, I detailed the outside edge of each glove with a simple four-stitch cable which runs through and ends with the pinky finger.

I kept the body of the glove snug as to avoid the bulk.  After passing the thumb and reaching the end of the palm, I increased the width slightly to provide enough stitches for the fingers.

I love how these turned out and I love how the look and feel.  The yarn... I chose a heathered green reminiscent of the Midwest green grass about to sprout, but also as a nod to the green clovers, and the green hills of the Irish countryside, and an acknowledgement that on March 17th, we are all Irish, and by default, we are all... lucky.  ;)e-

Enough kind words cannot be said about my good friend, Eric S.  He is a trooper and I thank him from the bottom of my heart for his generosity.  I feel fortunate to have him (and Bucky) in my life.  :)e-

Monday, February 28, 2011

Love & Roses

Ahhhh, February.

In February, we get to participate in two special celebrations:  Valentine's Day, and Black History Month.  And this year, I found special meaning in both of these.  I saw the beauty of both of these celebrations and the intertwined nature of them, and I realized that February was the perfect month for celebrating Black History when, for many years, we have been celebrating... Cupid.

On parenting...

This month has been a rollercoaster.  The beginning of the month started with my son's SCPP test in order to determine if he would be accepted and able to attend Walnut Hills High School - a Special College Preparatory Program.  The day of the test - a beautiful Saturday morning, he had a good breakfast, and we left with plenty of time.  He found a good friend of his in the awaiting crowd, and he went off to take the test.  As I waited for him at the end of the test, I thought something was off as he was much later than originally anticipated.  He walked out feeling defeated and tired - as he often does on many things.  That day was hectic and we had no time to process those feelings as we needed to head to his next event: a gala at the Art Museum where he was playing violin.  I felt horrible.  All I could do was refocus him and invite him to think about his still upcoming audition for the School for Creative and Performing Arts (SCPA).  I wanted to finish the paperwork and set his audition for the SCPA.  After all, if P did not pass that SCPP test, we would have to see what his prospects would be for the SCPA.  (I could only start thinking what this would be like in four more years when we started talking about colleges... OMG!)

That Monday, the application went out and by Tuesday, I was being informed that the final audition for the SCPA this year was that next Saturday.  Oy!  The audition which lasted 3.5 hours (!) went beautifully well even through the perceived lack of organization.  P was excited, and I thought - based on comments shared by the audition staff - that we had a good prospect for him ahead.  And so... the waiting game began as in both cases, the SCPP and the SCPA, we were told that we would not hear a peep until... mid-March.  Oy, again.

On Black History Month...

As the waiting game unfolded, I continued coaching my son through his school papers.  Through his research and his writing, I learned about Gandhi and his "influence on our Civil Rights Movement", about the children's march in the South during the Civil Rights Movement and the "KID POWER worth celebrating", and Bessie Coleman and how she broke barriers "as an African American female pilot".  I loved watching P learn about civil rights and what these stories were teaching him.  It was heart-warming to see his eyes opening to the progress we have made, but also - and sadly - to the insanity that our history contains.  "Really?!" is a question he often asked.  We have been through so much ignorance and discrimination.  Much of it is still around us, perhaps better-disguised.  It seems that at the core of the hatred our history houses, there was so much ignorance which led to so much pain!  The discrimination, the chaos, the pushing, the shoving.... the pushing... and the shoving...  Really?!

On Valentine's Day...

It came... and it went... quietly...

But throughout the week, I had the opportunity to think about love and what it means in my life. I am a pretty lucky fellow.  I have the love a wonderful partner who is patient and caring.  I have the love of my family:  my siblings, mami, my cousins, aunts and uncles all of whom raised me and some with whom I have recently reconnected.  I have the love of my friends who are supportive and encouraging.  I don't know what I would do without them.  And I have the love of my son who at eleven years of age has already become a thoughtful, fun (and funny), intelligent (both in street- and book-smarts), young man.  I never knew you could feel so much for someone in your life as I feel for my son.  And when I try to show him... often, I am always reminded that I am suffocating him from hugging him too tightly and too closely.  Whoops.  The fun thing is that I am now beginning to feel the tight hugs back from him.  Yipee!

On parenting... again...

So, as the month moved on, my son and I were still waiting to hear from one of the schools.  I had asked P to think through the different scenarios and to start preparing an opinion on what he wanted to do depending on what happened.  My son was not too thrilled of thinking about what he would need to do if he was not accepted at Walnut, but he agreed to go through the exercise with me.  (Even though my parents never taught me to do this, I find myself finding opportunities to teach my son about projecting and thinking through what options and paths are ahead.)

By this point in our story, it was now February 22nd.  That day, we worked so hard at catching up with work and with homelife after our very short but very fun ski trip to Salt Lake City.  We were exhausted.  By evening, while dinner was being prepared, I realized that no one had checked the mail, so I ran out to get it.  The top piece of mail was from CPS (Cincinnati Public Schools).  My heart went to my throat.  This can't be THE letter!  It has only been 17 days - including weekends and holidays - since the test.  How could this be that letter?!  I opened the letter nervously.  I could not focus on ANYTHING in that letter; I could not read it at all!  But after a second or two, I found the following words, "I am pleased..."  Immediately and excitedly, I ran to the kitchen to read the letter.  The look on my son's face was PRECIOUS!  (I think he had a moment like mine when I opened the letter, because I ended up explaining what I had read a couple of times.  We were all so excited!  We had a little family party to celebrate!  P had passed his test and - interestingly - he now had the option he desired (a.k.a., the opinion).  Yeah!  Congratulations, P.

(As a funny side note and as any parent could relate to... my feeling of jubilation was quickly curtailed when, as I reviewed the information, I learned very quickly that I had two days (!) to prepare the tome of paperwork needed to register P at Walnut.  At that point, I had less than 48 hours from that night we celebrated, otherwise, I would have had to wait a month and a half!  February was just crazy!)

And in the beginning...

The piece I am sharing with you today is a cozy neck warmer.  It is knitted in one piece.  On one end, there is a knot resembling a rose, and on the other, two leaves, slightly separated so that the rose can sneak through.  The middle is a simple, luscious cable.

I find the piece significant for this month's post not because of my (stomach) knots throughout the entire month which turned out to be no more than a rose, but because of the lessons learned this month.  

In February, we get to participate in two beautiful celebrations:  Valentine's and Black History Month.  After learning about so many different influences and important people and events of our Civil Rights Movement, I now see Valentine's and Black History Month like this neck warmer:  intertwined in life like the cable that joins the rose with its leaves.  

As a gay, Hispanic father living in a committed relationship, I often feel discrimination.  And I know in my mind that it is based on ignorance.  So, I usually combat it with education.  However, as a human being, I am also a feeling person, and the hurt discrimination provides is big.  If ignorance is fought with education, I want to fight the hurt with love.  "Love and Roses" is dedicated to the fight we face when discrimination is the protagonist, to the great work and wonderful people who have paved ways for many of us regardless of who we are or from where we come, and it is dedicated to the discrimination we face still ahead.  This is my hopeful reminder that I combat with... love. 

Happy Valentine's Day and may you have had a chance to learn something new about Black History this year.  ;)e-

A special thank you to my friend Cate C. who took a leap of faith and a step forward by modeling this piece.  Her beauty is classic as is her style.  Thank you, Cate.  :)e-

Monday, January 31, 2011

Happy New Year: A time for renewal...

Early in our relationship, a friend called me a "Renaissance Man". 

Our conversation that day had progressed into things that interested me and that I truly enjoyed doing.  The list moved from home improvements - carpentry, tiling, painting, plumbing, and electrical work - to dance, yoga, skiing, golfing, karate, music, writing, interior design, cooking, quilting, and yes, knitting.  After the casual mention of these things, my friend exclaimed, "Eric, you are a Renaissance Man!"  The compliment was beautiful, and I accepted this compliment as it came.  I think I blushed a little, too... Well... as much as I can blush.  ;)  But as lovely as that compliment was, at that time, I wasn't sure if I truly saw myself as a Renaissance Man.  Yes, I do dabble in a lot of things, and I am happy with how most of them turn out, but does the sheer number of things one does make him/her a Renaissance person?  Perhaps that is not what my friend meant... 

The Renaissance period was a time of rebirth and renewal.  It was during this period that many of the things we know and believe in today (i.e., philosophies) came to being.  Is that what she meant?  There is something very beautiful about renewal and rebirth.  (Hmmmm, I do get teary-eyed when there is a baptism during Mass...)  Renewal is our time to begin anew and move forward.  I love the spirit of finding new things and being able to simply do them.  Maybe that is where I get all excited when projects arise.  The fulfillment I get from these interests is certainly not in the sheer quantity of them or in their variety, but in the process and their outcome.  Each opportunity to try something new is an opportunity to reinvent myself by adding a new experience to my repertoire, no?  The beginning of every project is an opportunity for something new to take shape, to start something fresh, anew.

On living...

I had the joy of spending the Holidays with my family in Puerto Rico.  I loved every moment we spent together as a family and with friends, both old and new.  During this trip, my sister (hola, mi amor) treated me to attend yoga sessions at the studio where she practices.  I was a little shy at first - new studio, new teacher. (I think the older I am getting, the more comfortable I am with habits... Ugh!  Not good!)  But as the first session (of three I got to attend) started and got moving, my spirit started moving with it.  The breathing exercises at the beginning of each session became a reminder of the movement - body and spirit - to which I was committing.  And the final medidations allowed me to feel renewed.  It was in one of these final meditations that the concept of renewal became more than a passing thought through the chanting and the breathing...  Our instructor spoke of the spirit.  He also spoke about sweat and the role it plays in the renewal of the body.  Little by little, I found my body going back, finding its energy, and renewing itself.  The beginning of every yoga practice (or every run, every workout, or every cast-on for that matter) marks the beginning of my personal renewal.

On parenting...

Every August, I am thrilled to see my son go back to school.  While many of us parents look forward to the routine that seems to settle things down from hectic summer camps, vacations, and sometimes the occasional "nothing-to-do" syndrome, the beginning of the school year also brings with it the opportunity to start over once again.  The beginning of each of my school years from elementary school through my graduate program allowed me the opportunity to start anew.  I keep reminding P that August is a time to consider the things that went well in the previous year and repeat those, and try to change those that we didn't like as much or we could do better.  Renewal.  And this is the same conversation we have had the last couple of 12/31/XX.  As we close one calendar year, we have the opportunity to look back, ponder, and wildly look ahead and start fresh.  "P, this is our chance to look back at the last year and repeat those things that went well, and also learn the lessons of those things that did not go as well, so we can help them get better this new year."  The beginning of every school year and the beginning of every calendar year provide us with the opportunity to begin anew.

In the beginning...

A few posts back when I shared the concept of ripping stitches to begin again, taking things back and starting fresh, I never thought I would find myself looking at this slouch.

The hat was knitted with a simple concept in mind:  play with knits and purls to create a subtle pattern.  Well, can you see the pattern?!  Oh, don't squint too much, you can't even see it in real life.  It was an experiment.  In some folks' eyes, it probably went awry. 

At first, I thought I needed to rip it and repurpose the yarn.  Unfortunately, I grabbed needles, yarn, and a sketch of the pattern to be purled in the stockinette background so quickly that I had no time for ripping and starting fresh.  I had finished the hat before I knew it.  In the end, the beanie turned out to be a slouch, and the pattern - a very trendy skull and crossbones - can't even be seen!  But...

This slouch is significant for many reasons:

1.  It re-taught me the importance of gauge: a lesson that can't be repeated often enough.
2.  It taught me that sampling/making a swatch to try your pattern can be useful.
3.  It reminded me that perfection is subjective.  Both my son and my partner loved the try and the concept of this slouch.  And my son, the forever cool kid, kept it.  So there has to be some merit to the design, eh?
4.  Most importantly, I found in this little mishap an opportunity to renew my love for knitting, my spirit, and my energy.  I tried it, and I moved on.

The beginning of this project was filled with excitement, and after all the lessons I had... The beginning of my next project became the start of a new journey with more excitement along the way.  Every cast-on is a door to a new space, an opportunity to renew.

If I am not yet one, I want to truly become a Renaissance man. 

One short and final thought...

You know, every day is work - no, not the kind that pays the bills, or the kind that keeps your household running.  Every day is work for every one of us.  It's not that life is hard; it's just that we all have to work hard to move through the day.  Yogis say that daily practice maintains the body, soul, and spirit renewed.  I wonder if in our daily work, we all take moments to renew our spirits - whether it's yoga, meditation, prayer, rest (like a nap!), spending time with loved ones, or simply "staring into space" to calm our minds, bodies, and spirits.  What do you do to renew?

In the meantime, while we ponder together and as we continue to practice and find ways to renew ourselves and share, January 2011 marks the beginning of a new year - an opportunity to reflect on the past, and look wildly toward the future. 

Happy New Year!

A special thanks to my friend Steve B. who through his daily practice of living, loving, and taking care of himself lives a new year every day.  :)e-